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Source: Small Island Developing States

17 September 2019: Ahead of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September, five UN human rights treaty bodies issued a joint statement on human rights and climate change. UN human rights experts also released a statement, calling for “an end to society’s addiction to fossil fuels.”

In a joint statement, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities welcome the Summit’s goal to “mobilize plans and actions to enhance the ambition of emissions reduction,” and urge all States to take into consideration their human rights obligations during review of their climate commitments.

The Committees welcome the findings of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including that climate change poses significant risks to the enjoyment of human rights and to the ecosystems which affect such enjoyment. The Committees note that the risks are particularly high for women, children, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and persons living in rural areas.

The Committees note that, according to the IPCC, “urgent and decisive climate action” is required to avoid the risk of “irreversible and large-scale systemic impacts,” and highlight the importance of human rights norms to be applied at every stage of the decision-making process of climate policies.

Marginalized and vulnerable groups should be recognized as essential partners in the local, national and international efforts to tackle climate change.

The Committees call on States to ensure an inclusive multi-stakeholder approach to recognize marginalized and vulnerable groups as “agents of change and essential partners in the local, national and international efforts to tackle climate change.” They “note with great concern” that States’ current commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change are insufficient to limit global warming to 1.5°C, which exposes populations and future generations to human rights threats.

The Committees further state that, for States to comply with their human rights obligations and reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, they must, inter alia, adopt and implement emissions reduction policies reflecting the highest possible ambition, enhance climate resilience, ensure that public and private investments are consistent with low-emission and climate-resilient development, and address all forms of discrimination and inequality.

Finally, the Committees emphasize the role of international cooperation towards the realization of human rights, noting, for example, that high-income States should support adaptation and mitigation efforts in developing countries through technology transfer and finance.

In a related statement, UN human rights experts recognize that coal, oil and gas consumption produces the vast majority of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, leading to the “global climate emergency that endangers human rights in every region of the planet.” They highlight that, since the UNFCCC’s adoption in 1992, the share of the world’s energy produced by fossil fuels remains the same at 81%. Since 1990, the experts note, global energy consumption has grown 57%, coal consumption went up 68%, and oil and gas use increased by 36% and 82%, respectively.

The experts state that the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation, a healthy environment, an adequate standard of living, housing, property, self-determination, development and culture and being “threatened and violated” by climate change. Drawing attention to the “staggering costs” of fossil fuel use, including millions of premature deaths due to air pollution, they emphasize that, to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal and limit the damage to human rights, immediate, urgent and effective actions are needed to reduce GHG emissions by 45% by 2030, phase out fossil fuels by the middle of the century, and reverse deforestation.

Additionally, the experts call for, among other actions: protecting indigenous peoples’ rights; mobilizing USD 100 billion in annual adaptation funding for low-income countries; and establishing a new fund, financed by an air passenger travel levy, to support small island developing States (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs) in addressing climate change-related loss and damage. [Joint Statement on Human Rights and Climate Change by Five UN Human Rights Committees] [Statement by UN Human Rights Experts]

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